The Christchurch earthquakes’ impact on the Convergence Gathering: Traditions of Cybernetics: 4 Management , 9 Social Sciences
This paper takes a cybernetic perspective of the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on the Convergence gathering. Convergence began almost thirty years ago in Canterbury, New Zealand as an alternative life-style gathering. Three to five hundred people have gathered annually for five days using an acephalous structure, in that there is no structured leadership. Leadership becomes distributed, transient and self-selected. Convergence has had many challenges and generally proved itself to be resilient.
In a top-down hierarchy information flows tend to be unidirectional, so feedback loops are apt to remain open and the full requisite variety rarely accessed, whereas in an acephalous group everyone has the power to act. Acephalous organisations operate at all scales from small support groups to Alcoholics Anonymous and large internet based networks.
The earthquakes of late 2010 and 2011 had an enormous impact on the people of Christchurch. One hundred and eighty five people died in the February 2011 earthquake and widespread trauma continues for many as the city slowly rebuilds. Many lost homes and employment, and endured over 14,000 aftershocks, ongoing political wrangling, battles over insurance, increased suicides and crime. Many thousands shifted away. There have been positive impacts such as new business opportunities and increased community participation.
While the earthquakes had no significant direct effects on Convergence, many participants have been through major trauma or changes of life circumstances. Individual participants have therefore needed to care for their own wellbeing leaving them less able to maintain previous roles or take on new initiatives within Convergence. A survey of 152 participants revealed a general perception that the organisation had become “a bit loose” over recent years. Other issues such as an aging demographic also impacted on the organisation in recent years.
Whereas the perturbation of a system by an external influence has more commonly explored the effects of the loss of agents from the system, here we examine the impact of the reduced effectiveness of individual agents on the whole system. Individual reductions in requisite variety leads to reduced requisite variety of the whole organisation. Recursive processes can lead to a vicious circle. The reduced participation means some established events failed to occur, such as an induction for new participants and a group of “soul soothers” providing support for people struggling during the gathering. This made it more difficult for participants, especially newer participants, to contribute.
The challenge for Convergence is to adapt to the perturbations and develop their acephalous structure from the opportunities that emerge from a release phase where resources can be redeployed in innovative ways that increase the resilience of the organisation. A better understanding of the underlying dynamics may assist Convergence and other acephalous organisations to learn how to cope with unexpected perturbances or encourage other organisations to experiment with acephalous principles.
The concepts explored to gain a deeper understanding of the effects of the earthquakes on Convergence include circularity, resilience, system archetypes, requisite variety, double bind, antifragility, autopoiesis, structural coupling and learning organisations.
- 4) Management
- 9) Social sciences